At the start of his 2d Inaugural, FDR offered the following defense of government activism:
In this we Americans were discovering no wholly new truth; we were writing a new chapter in our book of self-government. 4
This year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Constitutional Convention which made us a nation. At that Convention our forefathers found the way out of the chaos which followed the Revolutionary War; they created a strong government with powers of united action sufficient then and now to solve problems utterly beyond individual or local solution. A century and a half ago they established the Federal Government in order to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to the American people. 5
Today we invoke those same powers of government to achieve the same objectives.
The still priceless one-liner that sums up FDR's entire message that day was:
We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals; we know now that it is bad economics
Reagan's contrasting core thesis, 44 years later, could be summed up in this one-liner*:
In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem
For 30 years, our public policy has been dominated by this basic creed. Whether it was telecom deregulation, financial deregulation, welfare "reform," regulatory "reform," or most any other issue, the Reaganite philosophy almost invariably prevailed. Whether it was Gingrich, Greenspan, W, Cheney, or anyone else playing the tune, they were all using St. Ronnie's sheet music.
We have, sadly, reached the logical end result of Reaganism. An oil volcano unleashed by BP and Halliburton continues to gush w/ no end in sight. U3 approaches 10%, U6 approaches 17%, and millions of Americans and underwater w/ their mortgages. Our schools are facing savage cuts, and our state and local governments are basket cases. Meanwhile Wall Street continues to party like it's 2006, and BP and Halliburton disclaim any responsibility for the havoc that they unleashed.
We didn't, as a society, enjoy the temporary fruits of 3 decades of heedless self-interest. We certainly are, however, bearing the long-term consequences of that approach. Our country consciously chose Reagan over FDR, and the bill has now come due.
It's time, accordingly, to shelve the "bipartisan" canard. Bipartisanship is a tactic that can, on occasion, reap benefits--like yesterday's 96-0 Senate vote for the Sanders Amendment. It's never been a strategy, however, and it sure as hell isn't one now.
FDR was clearly right, and Reagan was just as clearly wrong. We're the party of FDR, and they're the party of Reagan. All the rest is detail.
It's way past time for us to recall these self-evident truths.
*While the official speech transcript reads differently, he clearly uttered those words.
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